Russians hit Ukraine as Kremlin-organized votes continue

Kyiv, September 24 (PTI/AP): Russian forces launched new strikes on Ukrainian cities on Saturday as Kremlin-orchestrated votes continued in occupied parts of Ukraine to pave the way for their annexation by Moscow.

Zaporizhzhia Governor Oleksandr Starukh said the Russians targeted infrastructure in the Dnieper River city and one of the missiles hit a building, killing one person and injuring seven others.

Russian forces also struck other areas in Ukraine, damaging residential buildings and civilian infrastructure.

The UK Ministry of Defense says Russia is targeting the Pechenihy dam on the Siverskyy Donets river in northeast Ukraine following previous strikes on a dam on a reservoir near Kryvyi Rih causing flooding on the Inhulets river.

Ukrainian forces are advancing further down the two rivers, the British said. As Russian commanders grow increasingly worried about their operational setbacks, they are likely trying to hit the floodgates of the dams, in order to flood Ukrainian military crossings.

Amid the fighting, voting has continued in Kremlin-organized referendums in occupied areas, votes that Ukraine and its Western allies have dismissed as a sham without legal force.

During the five days of voting in the eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk and in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south that began on Friday, election officials accompanied by police carried ballots to homes and set up mobile polling stations , citing security concerns. Voting is expected to end on Tuesday when voting takes place at polling stations.

Voting also took place in Russia, where refugees and other residents of those regions voted.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will heed the will of the people, a clear signal that the Kremlin is poised to quickly annex the regions once the vote is over.

Ukraine and the West said the vote was an illegitimate attempt by Moscow to carve out large swaths of the country, stretching from the Russian border to the Crimean Peninsula. A similar referendum was held in Crimea in 2014 before Moscow annexed it, a move most of the world saw as illegal.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged Ukrainians in occupied regions to undermine the referendums and share information about who is carrying out this farce. He also urged Ukrainians to avoid being called up in the Russian mobilization announced on Wednesday.

But if you find yourself in the Russian army, then sabotage any enemy activity, interfere with any Russian operation, give us all important information about the occupiers. … And at the first opportunity, change your position, he said in his evening speech.

The Russian Defense Ministry said a partial mobilization ordered by Putin was aimed at adding around 300,000 troops, but the presidential decree leaves the door open for a broader call.

Across Russa’s 11 time zones, men hugged weeping family members before being gathered for service, fearing a wider call would follow. Some media claimed that the Russian authorities actually planned to mobilize more than a million people, allegations denied by the Kremlin.

Protests against the mobilization that erupted Wednesday in Moscow, St. Petersburg and several other Russian cities were quickly dispersed by police, who arrested more than 1,300 people and immediately issued summonses to several of them. Anti-war activists are planning more protests on Saturday.

Many Russian men desperately tried to leave the country, buying scarce and exorbitantly expensive plane tickets. Thousands more fled by car, creating lines of traffic for hours or even days at some borders. Lines of cars were so long at the border with Kazakhstan that some people abandoned their vehicles and walked like some Ukrainians did after Russia invaded their country on February 24.

In a bid to allay public fears about the call, authorities announced that many of those working in high tech, communications or finance will be exempt.

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